Page last updated at 08:58 GMT, Friday, 12 September 2008 09:58 UK

Global popularity contest

Analysis
By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

It is fast becoming the most familiar soundbite in British politics.

Gordon Brown and Silvio Berlusconi
Some European leaders are more popular than others

Whenever a government minister is challenged about Labour's dismal opinion poll ratings, they reach for the one answer for which they know the interviewer will not have an instant comeback.

It is, they say, the same for every government in the world.

"Go round the world," said Gordon Brown at his monthly press conference on Thursday.

"Talk to any person in any country and talk about how governments are having to deal with what are completely unique situations."

Asked if he took personal responsibility for Labour's unpopularity, he again reached for his atlas.

"If you go round the world you will see that every country is affected," he told reporters.

Voters were anxious about the credit crunch and rising prices and it was his job to guide them through these difficult times, he said.

Skills secretary John Denham made a similar point on Thursday's Newsnight.

"There isn't a country in the world that isn't affected by the forces that have affected this country over this last few months".

Asked if Mr Brown was to personally to blame, he replied: "In pretty much every other country, the incumbent government, in the first instance, gets the blame."

A few days earlier, schools secretary Ed Balls told Andrew Marr: "If you look at leaders around the world, it's a difficult time to lead because of the state of the economy."

But how true is this?

Emergency talks

Some ruling parties have undoubtedly taken a battering in recent months.

In Spain the economic crisis was so severe, prime minister José Luis Rodriguéz Zapatero called his cabinet back from their summer holidays for emergency talks. His Socialist Party is now neck-and-neck in the polls with the conservative opposition.

APPROVAL RATINGS
Medvedev (Russia) +47
Rudd (Aus) +25
Berlusconi (Italy) +13
Merkel (Germany) +2
Sarkozy (France) -8
Harper (Can) -11
Bush (US) -33
Fukuda (Jap) -34
Brown (UK) -47
Sources: Levada Centre; Newspoll /The Australian; IPR Marketing / La Repubblica; ARD-DeutschlandTREND; IPSOS; Angus Reid; CNN/Opinion Research; Nikkei; IPSOS/MORI

French President Nicholas Sarkozy has also taken a big hit in the polls due to the country's economic woes and seen his UMP Party defeated in municipal elections, although his standing has started to improve in recent weeks.

And the popularity of Japan's government plummeted before prime minister Yasuo Fukuda announced his resignation at the start of the month, admitting he could not cope with the problems facing the country.

Others seem to be weathering the economic storm rather better.

The ruling Conservative coalition in Germany has a 12 point lead in the polls and seems on course to win next year's general election.

Kevin Rudd's Australian Labour Party is still riding high after its December election victory, with a healthy 12% lead over the coalition of Liberals and Nationals, according to a survey for Newspoll/The Australian.

Fastest fall

But the really bad news for Mr Brown comes when you turn to approval ratings.

The British prime minister appears to be more unpopular with voters in his own country than just about any of his peers in the major industrialised nations.

Even George Bush, one of the most unpopular US Presidents in history, had higher approval ratings than Mr Brown last month.

Mr Brown has suffered the fastest fall in personal approval ratings in British political history over the past 12 months, according to IPSOS/MORI.

The polling organisation's latest research suggests 24% of voters were satisfied with Mr Brown's performance as prime minister, while 71% were dissatisfied, a net approval rating of - 47%.

That compares to a net approval rating of +16% when he came to power in July last year.

George Bush, by comparison, scored - 33%, in a poll carried out by CNN/Opinion Research at the end of August.

Health warning

Canadian premier Stephen Harper, who has survived a series of confidence votes, managed a net approval rating of - 11%, according to Angus Reid Strategies, while his Conservative Party seems on course to win the next general election.

In Europe, the beleaguered Spanish PM has seen his personal approval dive too, but with a net rating of - 10%, according to an IPSOS survey last month, they still look healthier than Mr Brown's.

Voter satisfaction with Mr Sarkozy - the man most often quoted by British ministers as suffering a similar fate to Mr Brown in the polls - has been picking up in recent weeks.

In August, he scored a net rating of - 8%, according to IPSOS, an improvement of 10% on the previous month.

In Italy, comeback kid Silvio Berlusconi - whose right wing coalition was returned to power in April following the collapse of a centre-left coalition with a mandate to sort out the ailing economy - is enjoying a relatively healthy approval rating.

Some 55% of voters said they had confidence in his leadership in a July poll for IPR Marketing / La Repubblica, compared to 42% who did not.

In Germany, Angela Merkel has also edged into positive territory in the approval ratings. And in a recent poll 59% said they would back her if they could directly elect their Chancellor.

Although for truly stellar levels of voter satisfaction we must turn to Russia, where a July poll by the Levada Centre gave Mr Putin a net approval rating of + 61%, while the country's president Dmitri Medvedev scored + 47%.

As always with opinion polls, there has to be a health warning. Methodology and the questions posed differ slightly from one country to another and there a myriad of local factors which can influence the findings.

Countries are also at different stages in their electoral cycles - Labour could still argue it is suffering from "mid-term blues".

Britain's electorate is also more volatile than most at the moment, as Mr Brown's own experience of the polls over the past 14 months has shown.

But next time a British cabinet minister says every government in the world is being punished by voters because of the state of the economy, it is worth reflecting that some are hurting worse than others.




SEE ALSO
Brown defends 'resilient' record
01 Sep 08 |  UK Politics
Brown pledge to 'rethink' policy
09 Sep 08 |  UK Politics
Voters 'getting grumpy with Labour'
28 Aug 08 |  UK Politics
Can Brown turn it round?
22 Aug 08 |  UK Politics

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